Flashback Friday: Fate Ball by Adam W. Jones

The post I’m working on just isn’t going to be finished on time — at least not while leaving me capable of working today. So here’s a post from the past about a book that I’ve thought about lately.


Welcome to Part One of our participation in the Fate Ball Book Tour — a brief interview will follow in a couple of minutes. Hope you enjoy both of these posts half as much as I enjoyed this book.

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
PDF, 279 pg.
Wisdom House Books, 2016
Read: April 14 – 15, 2016

Parents always seem to think that saving the day is a good thing, but really it just postpones the inevitable. Sometimes, they should just let their kids crash and burn, so they learn their lesson the hard way. Parents can be the biggest enablers of them all when they’re acting out of love and kindness, but that usually just makes things worse.

That’s not the most dazzling piece of writing in Fate Ball, nothing catchy or inherently memorable, like I try to start with — but this is the heart of the book. People trying to help an addict not ready to be helped, and inadvertently making things worse.

In the prologue, Able Curran receives news that Ava Dubose has died — Chapter One takes us back 14 years to 1980 to meet her. In Chapter Two (one of the best chapters I’ve read this year), Able meets her — and falls for her almost instantly (and many readers will, too). Over the next few chapters, you see the two falling deeper and deeper in love — one of the cutest couples you’ve read.

All the while, you know that things are leading to the fateful phone call Able receives in 1994. We start to see some signs of trouble (well, those started before this) long before Able does. When he finally gets clued it, it destroys him — and they don’t see each other for some time. From there we watch these two lives intersect from time to time over the next 15 years (usually, Able trying to help her), as well as getting glimpses of their lives between the intersections.

This is really the story of two addicts — one who lets their dependency control and destroy them. The other who learns how to live with the problem, controlling and eventually overcoming. And even as you know it’s happening, you still hold out hope for Ave to shake things off, to achieve the serenity — or at least the contentment that she so desperately needs. Things get worse and worse — yet Jones is able to keep things from despairing, there’s a lightness to the prose that keeps things moving. While things fall apart for Ava, they move on for Able and their friends — success, new love, children, life.

In some hands, you’d be beaten over the head with the contrast, Jones doesn’t do that however. It all spools out naturally, easily (the kind of ease that takes work to pull off). You like everyone here enough that you’re pulling for them, no matter what stupid choices they make. Jones as come up with a perfect blend of humor, romance, drama, and tragedy.

There are plenty of little touches along the way to keep things light, to immerse you in the world — which is good because the book could become too fixated on Able and Ava.

His mother was always asking, then answering her own questions. That’s why she was always right. She could have a whole conversation with herself, even a fight depending on the subject matter, and no one had to say a word. All Able needed to do was just nod his head once in a while and she would take care of the rest.

This is not the best book I’ve read — not even the best novel on addiction. But it works well enough that it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, or there are glaring problems — but objectively, I just think it could be better. But when you’re reading it? It delivers everything you want, and some things you don’t expect. I really enjoyed this and think you will, too.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the kind folks at Wisdom House Books in exchange for an honest review.

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4 1/2 Stars

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The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: Malcolm Fox Uncovers Corruption both Past and Present

The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead

by Ian Rankin
Series: Malcolm Fox, #2

Hardcover, 391 pg.
Reagan Arthur Books, 2018
Read: December 24 – 26, 2018

Detective Paul Carter has been found guilty of some pretty clear-cut criminal activity. Fox and his team have been brought into investigate a neighboring force, Carter’s own, to see who might have been involved with him — or at the least covered up for him. They weren’t involved with the original investigation, but that doesn’t keep anyone from hating them as they come in for the follow-up.

Not too surprisingly, they’re getting nowhere fast. So they go fishing — not talking to the detectives they’re looking into, but witnesses and others. One of them ends up dead not long after Fox talks to him. There’s enough hinky in the crime scene, what the witness had told Fox — and the fact the detectives in charge are the same ones that Fox and his team are looking into, that Fox determines he needs to look into things.

There’s a tie between this murder and an old cold case involving a firebrand politician tied to the more militant wing of Scottish Nationalism. Fox is convinced that the two crimes are linked and he sets about proving who killed one man as a way to finding the killer of the other. This two-pronged focus of the book keeps Fox, his partners, and the readers on their toes.

Despite all the differences between the two characters (which will become even more obvious, it seems in the next Rebus book), they ultimately operate best in the same way, as lone wolves. But when Rebus goes off on his own and causes trouble, it’s just par for the course. When Fox does it, it’s out character — he’s a team player (at least he wants to be), so there’s a lot of mechanics involved in getting him off on his own. In The Complaints it took a conspiracy to isolate Fox, here, it takes one detective Fox crossed to take advantage of his tenuous link to a crime.

But on his own, Fox will do more to uncover the facts not just of the murder he’s wanting to investigate, the investigation he’s supposed to be running, and a very cold case. Yes, he does work with his friends who are still on the inside, to confirm or deepen his knowledge (and he does feed information back to them), but he’s very much on his own.

There’s a good amount of family drama again for Fox — grounding Fox and giving a dimension to the character that is good to see (even if it doesn’t always bring out the best in him).

I very much enjoyed watching Fox work — and try to stay near the system, if he can’t stay in it. The solutions to the crimes are well done — by both Fox and Rankin. We even get a little bit of a cameo-like appearance of good ol’ Rebus. Nothing about this really blew me away, but I was gripped throughout, and entertained by the whole thing. Rankin’s good enough that he doesn’t have to dazzle you as a reader to be very aware that you’re in the hands of a master. Fox would be worth following on his own, and I’m glad we got to see him for a couple of books before he comes park of the greater universe surrounding Rebus.

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4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Dry Hard by Nick Spalding: Who needs to drink when you can have this much fun reading?

Dry HardDry Hard

by Nick Spalding
eARC, 293 pg.
Amazon Publishing UK, 2019
Read: November 19, 2018

Kate Temple’s in PR, Scott Temple’s a marketing director for a distillery. Both of them rely on alcohol to get through their days (and nights). They used to have each other to rely on and curb their use, but as they’ve become more successful, they have to do more things away from each other and they really don’t have anyone to watch out for them. Also, because they spend less time with each other, both have a hole they need to fill throughout their days — which usually involves more drinking.

Things are getting bad enough that they both endanger their jobs (not to mention the property and safety of others) thanks to drunken escapades. But this doesn’t give either of them much pause — if anything it drives them to the bottle even more. Their teenaged daughter, Holly, can’t understand why these two can’t see how bad their drinking is, how much it’s hurting their marriage, how much it’s affecting her life. So, at Christmas, she decides to secretly film them at their drunken worst (which starts pretty early in the evening) and then she shows it to them, hoping this video intervention will awaken them to their problem.

It doesn’t work — her parents defend their drinking, downplay the mortifying things they do on video and generally blow her off. So in a fit of adolescent pique, she uploads the video to YouTube so her friends can see it. But the video catches the attention of a couple of popular YouTube celebrities and next thing they know, Kate and Scott are a viral sensation.

This very public shaming convinces them that they need to make some changes, and decide to cut out drinking totally. Holly tries to get them public support by uploading videos chronicling their efforts to live dry for a year, attaching the hashtag #DryHard. Things do not go well — well, maybe well, but not smoothly.

Now, here’s where Spalding distinguishes himself from almost every other writer on the planet — he makes all of that hilarious. Yes, Holly’s going through a lot because of her parents, but even in the way that Spalding describes it, her hardships are funny. At the 14% mark, I wrote in my notes “I have no idea if he can tell a story, but Spalding can make me laugh!”

I can thankfully report, he can tell a story — and still makes me laugh. The comedy comes from the situations, from the slapstick-y way his characters navigate the situations, and just the way he narrates (typically through the protagonists’ voices). It’s not just one thing that he does well — he can bring the laughs through multiple channels. Yes, the couple are careening toward rock bottom, but you laugh about it; yes, they’re dealing with very serious life and death issues — but Spalding makes you find the humor in the situations; they have monumental struggles that don’t go away just because they sober up, but you’ll ber chuckling and chortling while watching them flounder.

Oh, also, this has nothing to do with the plot, but Spalding’s description of Gin Fawkes — a flavored gin using orange peel and cinnamon produced by Scott’s distillery — is enough to make me consider becoming a teetotaler. Fantastic stuff. Funny and horrifying in equal measures.

This is the story of a family in crisis and the great lengths they go to to preserve that family. That right there sells me on the book — everyone wants the same thing — Kate and Scott’s marriage to recover. There’s not one person in the family thinking of pulling away, there’s not one more committed than the rest — both spouses are flawed and fallible, even Holly makes mistakes and loses her way, however briefly. No one’s blameless, no one’s to blame, Scott and Kate have got themselves to this point together, and together they’ll make it out. Too many books like this will take the “side” of one spouse — one is committed, one is faithful, one is stupid and blind to their own faults and one is the bigger/wiser person, etc., etc. Spalding doesn’t do that — he presents the Temples as mutually dysfunctional, mutually aspirational, and human.

Unlike a lot of similar authors, if Spalding had the opportunity for an honest, heartfelt emotional scene or a series of laughs — he’d pick the laughs 99 times out of 100. Thankfully, if he could go for a fairly honest and quite heartfelt scene with laughs, he’d go for that too. If he’d gone for fewer laughs and more of the honest and heartfelt moments, he might have a more complex, realistic, and substantive novel. Something more akin to Jonathan Tropper or Nick Hornby at their best. Instead, Spalding produced an entertaining, funny and frequently hilarious novel. The substance is there — but it’s hidden and easy to miss between the chuckles.

If you take the time to look for the substance/depth — you’ll find it and appreciate its presence. If you don’t and just laugh, you’ll be fine and have a good time — either way, you win.

This was my first Nick Spalding book — it will not be my last. Fast and funny — I had a blast reading this and laughed out loud more than I can remember doing in a long time. Read this. You’ll enjoy it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Amazon Publishing UK via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Fletch (Audiobook) by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller: A Strong Audio Version of One of My All-Time Favorites

Fletch (Audiobook)Fletch

by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs. and 57 mins.
Blackstone Audio, 2018

Read: November 27 -28, 2018


I re-read the paperback of this a few years ago (with intentions of reading the whole series again, which never went anywhere), before this blog started — for some reason (probably brevity), I didn’t repost what I put on Goodreads here. Until now.

What an outstanding read. Funny, satirical, with a lot of heart, crackling dialogue…oh yeah, and a pretty solid mystery.

It has none of the goofiness, and better plotting than the Chase flick (which I really do enjoy as its own entity)

The first–and possibly best–of a great series. Worth reading again and again.

Yeah, that’s all that I wrote. Who knew I could be so non-rambling? Anyway, I really don’t have much more to say about this one (other books in the series, probably).

Why do I bring this up? Well, Blackstone Audio started releasing new audiobook versions of the series last year. I’ve listened to Fletch and it was really, really good.

Dan John Miller does a bang-up job with the narration. I’ve read every book in the series multiple times — some of them several. I’m going to give a conservative estimate of 15 reads of Fletch before the audiobook. I know each sentence, I know how these people should sound, I’ve “heard” them more times than I can remember and there was little chance that some new voice in my head was going to be able to compete. And Miller did pretty good — I don’t agree with every choice he made, but I liked almost everything he did.

That may seem like faint praise, but think of it as never knowing that Darrin Stevens had ever been portrayed by anyone but Dick York, you’d watched York’s 170 episodes a handful of times and then one day you stumble onto a one of Dick Sargent’s 80 episodes. You instantly react, “hey, that’s not Darrin!” and then by the end of the episode, you’ve accepted him. That’s a fairly tortured analogy, but it’s the best I can do.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little worried about Miller’s take on Francis Xavier Flynn ruining my appreciation for him, but once we’re past that, I think he’ll win me over again (and who know, I might tolerate it).

If you’ve never read a Gregory MacDonald Fletch novel — trust me, they’re better than the movies. They’re a dynamite series — and seem to be in very capable hands with Miller’s narration, which would be a great way to meet I. M. (Irwin Maurice) Fletcher, your favorite investigative journalist.

Thanks to Brian at Brian’s Book Blog for exposing me to the audiobooks — I owe ya one!

—–

5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 1/5/19

I seem to be having one of those weeks: I’m reading a fantastic book and — to make deadlines — a pretty good book and one I haven’t decided about yet. And I feel like I’m getting nowhere with any of them (the bookmarks keep moving, so I know that’s not the case). It’s pretty frustrating. Especially with library due dates and other deadlines looming. I tell ya, the reader’s life is hard, yo.

Anyway, I haven’t spent that much time web/social media surfing this week. But I do have a small list of odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye to share with you. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Asha Seth, rosemikeals42, nikkit321, andrayachristine and Solid lover of poetry for following the blog this week.

P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, Maria Beddia: Twisted, Fun and even Educational

P Is for PterodactylP Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever

by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, Maria Beddia (Illustrator)


Hardcover, 40 pg.
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018
Read: December 20, 2018

One of the first books printed in the American colonies was The New England Primer, filled with catchy lines like “In Adam’s Fall / We Sinned All.”

Since that time, many alphabet-type books have been published in the same — or similar — vein. One of the latest is P Is for Pterodactyl, which carries the subtitle, The Worst Alphabet Book Ever which doesn’t seem that complimentary, but when it includes lines like:

” is for Jai Alai.

or

” is for Ewe.”

or even

U is not for You.

and maybe you start to think there’s a little truth in advertising.

It’s actually an amusing book with some examples of the oddities and vagaries of English spelling/pronunciation that will stick with you. I’m not crazy about some of the selections (V’s a good example), but by and large, I really liked each “for” that the authors selected.

The artwork is great — it compliments the text well and will help keep shorter attention spans focused.

For everyone who enjoyed BNL’s “Crazy ABC’s”, this Picture Book entertains as well as educates. I’m not sure how well it’d work for the 7-and-under crowd, but for older elementary kids — and adults who just want a chuckle, this book will be just the ticket. I had a fun time reading it — as did my whole family. Unlike most of the picture books I post about here, you’ll note tat this one doesn’t carry any kind of disclaimer — I bought this one after seeing a couple of pieces about it online, and am glad I did. I imagine you will be, too.

—–

4 Stars

Past Tense by Lee Child: If this wasn’t a Reacher book, I’d probably like it more…

Past TensePast Tense

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #23


Hardcover, 382 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2018

Read: December 6 – 7, 2018
Shorty and Patty are a young couple from a rural Canadian community on their way to New York City to sell off some beloved possessions in order to make enough money to go to Florida and start their lives. Which sounds like a great idea (assuming they’re not ripped off in NYC) — if only they’d ever done basic maintenance on the car they’re driving. They end up breaking down outside a small town in New Hampshire, nowhere near a decent city.

The owners of a newly refurbished hotel outside town take pity on them and rent them a room for a little cheaper than they should and offer to help with getting their car going again — they even invite them to dinner their first night with them. Yes, I said first night — home repairs aren’t doing the job, so they have to call a tow truck/mechanic to fix the car — which is going to pretty much wipe the couple out. But what choice do they have?

Still, something doesn’t seem right about the whole thing. Shorty’s a trusting guy and rolls with everything that happens, but Patty smells something. She thinks a lot — incidentally, she thinks a lot like Reacher. Which is annoying when you’re reading a book starring Reacher that you get a clone. But it’s good for her and Shorty and just might end up saving their lives. It’d be better for the both of them if she had any of Reacher’s skills other than his ability to analyze a situation, but, I guess you take what you can get.

Meanwhile, Jack Reacher comes into the same town those two are stranded outside of. He was passing near by and on a lark decides to stop in Laconia, his father’s birthplace. He’s never met anyone from that side of the family, and his father said almost nothing about his childhood experiences there. So Reacher’s a bit curious about the town — he doesn’t even know if there might be a cousin or three around. It turns out that finding anything about his family is almost impossible in the official records — and there’s a decent chance that there’s no one around who knows anything about them that’s not in the official records.

While that’s going on, in the middle of the night Reacher encounters an attempted sexual assault and, ahem, dissuades the attacker. This attacker doesn’t press charges or anything, but it turns out that he’s connected to a significant crime family in the Northeast. Reacher is informed about this and is encouraged to leave town soon by a former MP turned local law enforcement officer that he’s become acquainted with. Reacher doesn’t like to be told what to do — by anyone — and there’s something about his father’s past that has him more curious than he’s been before and wants to track that down.

These two stories run independently of each other, while happening very near each other. Reacher does come to the hotel and asks a couple of questions about his quest about the same time that Patty’s getting suspicious, but the two don’t cross paths.

Now, I didn’t right down the page number when Reacher’s story intersects with Shorty’s and Patty’s — but I do know that it hadn’t happened by page 245 (of 382). Which is pretty astounding, and is definitely a new way to bring Reacher into the main events of a novel. I doubt it’s a trick Child can pull off again, but I’d like to see him try. If he doesn’t show up, bad things will happen — and will likely continue to happen — but it’s hard to say just how bad it’d all be. But Reacher does show up, and he does his usual thing, and many more people live than otherwise would have. Which isn’t to suggest that no one dies after he shows up, it’s just that most of them aren’t the people that seemed likely to die 30 pages earlier.

There’s little violence until the end of the book (there’s Reacher’s dissuasion, and two other minor — by Reacher’s standards — fights), but once the fighting starts, it doesn’t stop until there’s a whole lot of violence and bloodshed. Tension and unease that’s been mounting slowly over the whole book, are unleashed – and most of the last twenty percent (or so, I’m just guessing) of the novel is as violent and action-packed as you could hope for. Once that switch is flipped, it’s on.

This wasn’t my favorite Reacher novel — by far — but it was a really engrossing read. I enjoyed it — and really think if Jack Reacher hadn’t been the fly in the ointment for the people trying to manipulate and hurt Shorty and Patty, I think I’d have enjoyed this much more. But I expect more from Lee Child than I do other writers, and this time, I just don’t think he pulled it off. I’m willing to bet he does better next year, and I’ll content myself with that hope.

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3.5 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge